Time to upgrade your Windows

windows 10You’ve been so brave, gritting your teeth and just getting on with it, but now there is a light at the end of the tunnel; you just need to wait until the end of July and then life will be so much clearer …I’m talking of course about the perils of working with Windows 8 for the last 3 years, and the forthcoming launch of Windows 10 on July 29th.

For most of us, the launch of a new operating system is often a bit like a game of ‘spot the difference’. But when Windows 8 came along it was like learning a completely new language, with many of the functions I was used to on my computer seeming to be completely hidden. Gradually I’ve found out how it works, but that doesn’t mean I like it. So the good news is that the new operating system reflects the style of Windows 7 and one of the best things is that it incorporates that old favourite – a Start menu!

There are lots of good new features of Windows 10, so I’ve picked out a handful to give you a flavour.

Start menu
1. The Start menu is back – from here you can find the controls for turning your PC off (it sounds obvious but it was one of the hardest things to find with Windows 8), your most used apps, settings and File Explorer. The Start menu also features ‘live tiles’ which look  like Windows 8 – this means you can see what is happening in your most used apps, things like news updates, weather, calendar and mail.

Action center
2. There are no more ‘Charms’ (phew!) but instead you’ve got an Action Center. This is where you can switch your bluetooth or wifi on or off, switch on airplane mode amongst other things; if you’ve got an iPhone, it’s like the Control Centre.

edge13. New internet browser – Internet Explorer is being replaced with Microsoft Edge and according to the reviews it’s much easier to use and faster to load pages. I also like the way they have kept the logo very similar to the old one, so that it’s easy to find. You’ll be able to move your favourite and bookmarked sites to Edge when you upgrade.

Cortana1

4. Cortana – this is like Siri on Apple products – it’s a virtual assistant that can help you find things, either on your computer or on the wider web. For example, you can type in ‘what will the weather be like today’ or ‘show me an Indian restaurant in Chiswick’ and up will come various answers. You can also use Cortana by speaking to your phone, tablet or computer.

multitasking5. Multi-tasking is much easier – if you’re working in a few different apps at once, you can now have up to 4 apps showing on your desktop at once, which means much less flipping from one to another.

If you’re currently running Windows 8, 8.1 or Windows 7 you can upgrade for free within the first 12 months after launch. If you have an older version of Windows you will need to pay for it (we think this will be around £80) and do a ‘clean install’ – if you don’t know what that means, give us a call and we’ll help!

In one review I read, the new operating system was aptly described like this: “If Windows 8 was the steepest learning curve imaginable, Windows 10 is like meeting a great friend you once knew – it’s just they’ve bought some new clothes of which you really do approve.”

One final note of warning – operating systems take a long time to develop and once they launch there will be more updates all the time, to iron out little glitches. As we wrote here  a year or so ago, it’s sometimes worth waiting a month or two before diving in to a new upgrade, just to make sure you get the version with the fewest bugs.

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Top Tips 5 : Getting started with Windows 8.1

Window Start

Those of you who read Top Tips 4 will know we were getting quite grumpy with Microsoft. Two weeks on and our laptop has a new hard drive, we’ve installed Windows 8.1 and we’re almost back on speaking terms with Microsoft. We’ve had 3 days with their new OS.

Here’s what we like:

The Start button – This is the “click here for everything” button in the bottom left corner of your screen. Windows 8 didn’t have one, which was a bit like driving without brakes. With 8.1, the Admin menu is back when you right click – including all the old start button options such as “Control Panel” that you need to stay in control of your computer. In a face-saving move by Microsoft, the left click is reserved for alternating your desktop between the Start screen (see above – the big, brightly coloured square tiles preferred by Microsoft executives and children) and the Windows desktop (see below – the way you expect a computer to look, preferred by grown-ups).Desktop

Start screen – OK, maybe we’re showing our middle-agedness a bit with that last comment. Now that the traditional desktop is just a click away, we quite like the tiled Start Windows 8 App PiningScreen. It is very easy to set up with shortcuts to all our favourite apps (that’s a “programme” for the traditionalists amongst us)  and websites, including a big coloured square that takes us to our preferred desktop.

Here’s how:

click the down arrow (at the bottom left of the Start screen) to bring up the apps screen, click on the app you want and at the bottom of the window choose ‘Pin to Start’ to put a coloured tile on the Start screen and ‘Pin to taskbar’ to put an icon in the taskbar that runs along the bottom of your regular desktop.

Boot to desktop – If you’re not as down with the kids as we are and you just want things to be back to normal, then you can set your computer to skip the big coloured squares altogether and start up with the more familiar desktop:

right click the taskbar (the strip along the bottom of the desktop)

choose Properties then Navigation.

under ‘Start screen’ select

‘When I sign in or close all applications on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start’.

Apps charmsCharms  these are a selection of useful shortcuts. When you are in an app such as Word, either move your mouse up to the top right corner (no click needed) or press the Windows key and the letter C at the same time. Take a minute in each app to familiarise yourself with its Charms – once you start using them, they can save a lot of time.

Keyboard shortcuts  There are 4 other short-cuts that we think are worth learning:

Windows + S (press the Windows button and the letter S at the same time) – this opens a search box: just type in what you are looking for and the computer does all the hard work of finding and remembering where you put something 

Windows + X – this opens the Admin menu – the traditional Start menu mentioned earlier

Windows + I – this opens the Settings menu for the app you are working in, as well as volume, brightness and power 

Windows + H – this is the shortcut to the Share menu, which allows you to instantly send an email with the thing you are working on or post it on a social network 

One to avoid: Windows + Enter – this starts the Narrator reading everything on your screen. To stop it, use Caps+Esc key

That should be enough to get started.

Don’t download that update yet – Top Tips 4

mavericksThe operating system (or OS) on your computer is the main programme that controls the way your computer works, looks and interacts with the world. So you’d think it makes sense to keep your OS right up to date. But that’s not always the case.

This week Apple launched a new OS called Mavericks. Like every Apple update, it is evolutionary and everything looks familiar – so it feels just like the old system and nobody gets stressed. Mavericks promises to make your computer more secure, easier to use, faster and more energy efficient. Best of all it’s free, so it’s a no-brainer to download and install it. It works with every Apple made after early 2009 and some older computers too.

Apple store queuesBut a word of advice – wait a while. Pretty much every piece of new technology is launched with bugs. These are uncovered by the early adopters (the people who queue outside Apple shops) and ironed out in the first few weeks. We loaded Mavericks yesterday (OK, sometimes we’re in that queue) and we’ve already had a few issues with a scanner and the music in the office. Nothing serious, but unless you need to discuss the new OS on day 2 in the playground, it’s worth waiting a month.

With Microsoft, it’s sometimes worth waiting much longer.

Windows 8.1Windows 8 launched a year ago and most people who moved to it (us included) wish they hadn’t. It’s a lemon. Many have reversed the move and gone back to Windows 7.

Windows 7 is still used by half the world’s computers (as opposed to the 8% that run on Windows 8) because it is more straightforward and reliable. If you’ve got Windows 7, cherish it. Say “Yes” to all the updates that will keep your computer safe and running smoothly, and wait to see what Microsoft launch next year.

Similarly, if you’re running an older Windows OS (Vista, XP or 2000) then don’t stress yourself or your computer with a change – wait until you buy your next computer.

If you’re stuck with Windows 8, then this month’s 8.1 update comes with a health warning. We ignored our own advice and tried to install it in week 1. The result is a dead laptop (properly dead; fully bereft of life; an ex-laptop). We’re working on a resurrection, but with no help from Microsoft, who have hung up on us twice. If you hold stock, sell.

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